“It’s the first human necropolis to be found here in Tuna al-Gabal,” Egypt’s antiquities minister Khaled al-Anani told reporters at the site.
Judging from their elaborate preservation, the mummies likely belonged to officials or priests, he added. Also found at the site were six limestone and clay sarcophagi, two clay coffins and a number of other artifacts, Anani said. The discoveries likely date back to the Greco-Roman period, which lasted for nearly six centuries after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.
The findings were the latest in a series of discoveries in recent months. Among the new treasures: a dozen cemeteries that date back around 3,500 years, the ancient tomb of a nobleman that could be more than 3,000 years old and a giant colossus believed to portray King Psammetichus I, who ruled in the seventh century B.C.
Even Cairo’s crowded neighborhoods have proved fruitful arenas for new discoveries. In March, a German-Egyptian archaeological team uncovered a 26-foot-tall statue believed to be of Ramses the Great, who ruled more than 3,000 years ago and is widely considered ancient Egypt’s most powerful ruler. The statue, made of quartzite, was found in several pieces in Cairo’s Matariya enclave.
Last Tuesday, the antiquities ministry announced the finding of a 3,700-year-old burial chamber near the remains of a recently discovered pyramid at Dashur, south of Cairo. The chamber is likely belongs to a daughter of King Emnikamaw, and contained a wooden box engraved with hieroglyphs, said the ministry.
Last month, archaeologists found more ancient artifacts at Dashur, where the pharaoh Sneferu built Egypt’s first smooth-sided pyramid about 4,600 years ago. His son Khufu built the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the country’s best-known tourist attractions and a wonder of the ancient world.
The discoveries come at a crucial time for Egypt. The tourism sector, a vital source of hard currency, has struggled to recover since the country’s populist revolts of 2011 ousted President Hosni Mubarak, triggering political turmoil. Since then, a string of factors have kept many tourists away, including a slew of militant attacks, punctuated by the bombing of a Russian passenger plane in 2015, as well as attacks and abuses by Egypt’s own security forces.
Egyptian officials hope the new discoveries will change the tourism industry’s fortunes. Tourism Minister Yehia Rashed said last month, according to Reuters, that the new finds could raise tourism levels to about 10 million, an improvement from the 9.3 million visitors that came in 2015 but still far below the 14.7 million from 2010. Figures for last year are not yet available.
Meanwhile, the work continues at Tuna Al-Gabal, where Egyptian officials predict much bigger discoveries remain to be found.